The terms Latin(o) and Hispanic in their true definition, refer to Latin-Roman language speaking peoples of European Iberian peninsula origin. Namely the people of Spain, Portugal, Italy, and France– the people who initiated the colonization of the “Americas”. However, after hundreds of years of colonization and genocide by those true Latin countries, most Mexican, Central and South American Indigenous (Brown) people now identify with the colonizer’s identity. The fact that most Brown people now have Latin surnames and speak Latin languages like Spanish, results in our Indigenous identity and existence being obscured. Not only are we oblivious or ashamed of our Indigenous identity, most of the world has also been domesticated into viewing us as non-original peoples . The domestication is so ingrained that most Brown people will even identify with a European person or place that has no cultural or ethnic continuity with them or our Indigenous roots, just because they have a Latin sounding surname.
For those of you new to reclaiming your Indigenous selves and coming across the Not Hispanic, Not Latino (or Latinx) concept for the first time, I hope this gives you a solid understanding. For those Chicanxs + Central Americans who are already on the Indigenous reclamation path I’m sure you have already encountered this understanding from a variety of neo-Mexica thinkers. For you, you will find concepts and explanations you’ve already heard. However, this piece will expand on the general concept of Not Hispanic, Not Latinx. It will fill in gaps, make clarifications, and correct some of the assumptions and misapplications of this concept that I feel haven’t been addressed.
“If you do not understand White Supremacy, what it is, and how it works—everything else that you try to understand, will only confuse you.” – Neely Fuller (1969)
The understanding White Supremacy is critical to our Indigenous Reclamation movement and our fight for social, economic, and spiritual liberation. Not just for us as Indigenous people but for the world and humanity as well. I see many intersectional political and social movements happening these days that are still quite deficient in acknowledging white supremacy and how it manifests in different social, economic, and religious settings. If White Supremacy and all its manifestations are not properly identified and neutralized, those movements and actions for Indigenous liberation and prosperity will remain diluted and unfocused.
For our purposes, the following is a great definition for understanding white supremacy taken from the the late great Frances Cress Welling:
“White Supremacy: is the local and global power system dynamic, structured and maintained by those who classify themselves as white; whether consciously or subconsciously .; this system consists of patterns of perception, logic, symbol formation, thought, speech, action and emotional response, as conducted simultaneously in all areas of people activity: economics, education, entertainment, labor, law, politics, religion, sex, and war.”
That is just a brief explanation but we will expand on white supremacy and its manifestations in a different piece. For now, let us be clear that the intentional mislabeling of Brown (Indigenous) and Black people is a tactic of white supremacy to disconnect us from our Indigeneity and make us invisible in order to orient us as subjects of the colonizers.
In a nutshell Hispanic means “things of Spain” or people and is intended to specify people who speak Spanish , whereas “Latino/a/x” refers to people of Latin American countries. Spanish is one of the handful of Romance (Roman Empire) languages and cultures that also include French, Italian, Portuguese, and Romanian languages. Spain, France, Italy, and Portugal all have roles in the colonization of what is now popularly called “Latin America”.
Both labels have their particular histories which we will not go into depth here. For our basic intents and purposes know that Hispanic and Latino are two sides of the same coin. Where Hispanic is Spain specific and Latino is reference to the collective dominion of colonization by the already mentioned Latin-Roman(ce) countries.
Using Hispanic/Latino identities orients us in whiteness and erases us from our Indigenous heritage and others from their African heritage. Those labels put Europeans at the center of our Indigenous narrative. It obscures our identity to make us think we are all the same. It is the equivalent of African-Americans in the United States claiming they are English or British and not acknowledging they are Black just because they have English names. To us that sounds silly but that is exactly what we are doing by calling ourselves Latino or Hispanic. While our people are collectively in a sad state of misidentification we must have compassion with ourselves. Remember that the Mexican area colonization has been in motion for over 500 years. Juxtapose that to the bulk of the United States area territories that didn’t get subjugated until the mid 1800s. That’s a 300 year difference!
“While it is undeniable that some Mexicans are mestizos, many are not. Indeed, it is safe to say that most Mexicans cannot trace any Spanish or any other European ancestry. The perception held by the world-and by Mexicans themselves-that Mexico is a mestizo nation is almost completely false.” – Victor Mejia
Mestizo is not an identity. Despite centuries of imposed self hate and indoctrination to adopt White centered, Indigenous erasing identities like Latino, Hispanic, or Mestizo— Mexican people are predominantly of Indigenous cultural and spiritual heritage. Like Latino and Hispanic, Mestizo identity is just another strategy to get oppressed Indigenous to divest from being “Indians” and invest in the European colonizer’s world.
Despite propaganda to suggest Mexico as a mixed or “mestizo” melting pot country, the numbers have never reflected that.
For one, the Mexican government in an effort promote cultural assimilation, sought to create a homogeneous Mexican identity by emphasizing mestizaje. The 1930 census introduced the term “Mestizo” and stopped using “Indigenous” as a separate category. This change was a reflection of the nationalistic policies and the ideology of “mestizaje” or racial and cultural mixing that gained prominence during the post-revolutionary era in Mexico. The goal with changing the categorization was to erase Indigeneity and rebrand the national identity so as to advance “progress.” The introduction of the Mestizo category in the 1930 census and the subsequent erasure of Indigenous identity from official records had harmful consequences for Indigenous communities, including the loss of visibility, resources, and recognition of our cultural and historical pride.
Mestizaje is aligned with the concept of “La Raza Cosmica.” This concept put forth by Jose Vasconcelos, envisioned a future in which all races would blend into a new, unique, and superior race, which he called “the Cosmic race/people.” Of course this La Raza Cosmica was based on Eurocentric notions of progress and civilization. The belief in a hierarchy of races, with European heritage seen as more advanced or desirable, was implicitly embedded in the notion of the La Raza Cosmica. This indoctrinated view contributed to the marginalization of our Indigenous cultures, perpetuation of racial inequalities, and eventually the internalized self-hatred for our Indigenous selves.
In this essential piece Mestizaje and Self-Hate, Victor Mejia notes:
“Furthermore, the indigenous population then far outnumbered-and still outnumbers today-the non-Indians in Mexico. It must remain clear that only 900 Spaniards accompanied Hernan Cortez in 1521 when he conquered the Mexica.2 In contrast, 150,000 people inhabited the Mexica city, by conservative estimates. Some historians have calculated the number closer to 500,000, while still others place Tenochtitlan’s population at one million (Thomas 613).
These figures speak only of the Mexica city, which was located in central Mexico, a region estimated to have been inhabited by 25 million people. Overall, Mexico’s entire native population is believed to have numbered 30 million in 1521, making Mexico “more populous than any country in Europe. France, the largest, had about 20 million, and Spain roughly 8 million.” (Meyer and Sherman 89). Simply put, 900 Spaniards were insufficient to alter the racial make up of the entire native population.
In addition, despite European and African migration into Mexico during the colonial period, indigenous people continued to “vastly outnumbered all other racial groups in New Spain” (211). Even when the native population in central Mexico fell to its lowest point in 1650 to one million, as a result of European disease and Spanish cruelty, it still exceeded whites, who were only 119,000. Blacks were 35,089 (208 and 215). By 1810, native people numbered nearly four million while whites were only 1.1 million and mestizos only 704,245 (218). More importantly, these numbers only reflect the demographics of central Mexico.”
He goes on to note that..
” in colonial times it was common for Spaniards to rape women and abandon their offspring. These genetically mixed children were nurtured under native tradition by their mothers and thus were culturally more Indian than Spanish.”
To reinforce this, Yasnaya Elena Aguilar Gil, a Mixe linguist and writer asserts that in 1820 more than 70% of Mexicans spoke an Indigenous language with approximately 90% of population being Indigenous. While its difficult to verify the exact percentage of Mexicans who spoke an Indigenous language in 1820, it is plausible that a significant proportion of the population at that time did speak an Indigenous language. This is due to several factors that were prevalent during the early years of independent Mexico.
In the early 19th century, the Indigenous population in Mexico was still large despite the significant demographic decline caused by the colonization and genocide. Many of our Indigenous communities retained their language and cultural practices even as they navigated the oppressions of the colonial and post-colonial eras.
Also, the Spanish language was primarily spoken by the upper classes and the urban population during the colonial period. However, it took time for the Spanish language to spread across the country and become the dominant language among the broader population. Thus, it is likely that many Mexicans still spoke an Indigenous language during the early years of independence.
To conclude on the angle of language, simple research will also show that there are far more people who speak Indigenous languages in Mexico than there are in the United States and Canada combined. When one is able to see past the facade of Spanish language, surnames, and Catholic appropriation of our customs—it is not hard to see the Indigenous ancestry markers, phenotypes, essence, and cultural mannerisms still dominant in our families and people today regardless of skin tone.
A good friend of mine notes how most Jews have much more European blood than the average Mexican does and while being disconnected from the Middle East for over 2000 years, they still maintain their Hebrew/Israelite identity and are not challenged on their glaring European traits.
In his piece “The Mestizo Concept- a product of European Imperialism” , the late, great Jack D. Forbes writes this in critique of how Spanish and other peoples who actually merit the “mixed” or “mestizo” labels more than us do not have it insisted upon them.
“In both a racial and culture sense, then, the Spaniard is profoundly a true mestizo. In fact, it is safe to say that (except among the Basques) the Spanish culture of modern times is almost wholly non-Spanish in origin (in terms, at least, of specific traits) and is thoroughly mixed. Surprisingly, however, one never finds Anglo-Saxon social scientists categorizing the Spaniards as a mestizo.
One never finds scholars describing a Spanish subgroup as part Gitano or as a North African physical type. One never finds social scientists attempting to dissect the Spanish people and then to tell them who they are.. Furthermore modern Mexican and Chicano people possess far greater connection with their ancient Mexican past than many European groups do with their respective past.”
So as you can see, the Mestizo, “Raza Cosmica” narrative we’ve been fed is garbage. So when you see demographic reports or statistics like this from the CIA, know that Mestizo is predominantly Indigenous.
Genetic admixture doesn’t equate to identity. Genetic ancestry or DNA provides information about an individual’s biological and genealogical background, revealing connections to specific population groups, geographical regions, or shared ancestors. However, it is essential to understand that genetic ancestry does not necessarily determine one’s identity or ethnicity. Identity and ethnicity are multifaceted and shaped by various factors, including cultural, social, and historical contexts and experiences. Our continuity with our Indigenous lifeways and experiences is what makes us Indigenous. It is also in this way that non-Native people can discover they have 15% Native DNA yet not be Indigenous ethnically because of their lack of socio-historic continuity.
Example: Snoop Dogg found out he has 23% Native American DNA.
Yet, he identifies, walks through his life as, and society responds to him as a Black man. This is because of obvious ancestry markers (phenotype) but more solidly, because of his socio-cultural continuity with his Black ancestors. It is in that similar way that even though as Indigenous Brown people we may have substantial European or other blood, in our social walk we are seen predominantly as Native Indigenous people (“Hey Chief!”) because of our historic socio-cultural markers and continuity.
Society doesn’t respond to us as Asians, African, or White people. They respond to us as “Indians.” The colonizers have not been making making walls, borders, and fucked up laws for the Ricky Martins or Sofia Vergaras. They are making them for the Michael Peńas and Danny Trejos. The Mexicans, Central Americans, to them we are the Indians who remind them of their destructive history and moral debts to humanity. If we are “all the same” so-called mestizo nation, then there is nothing nor anyone for colonizers to be accountable for or to.
If you feel you are genuinely multi-racial then cool, honor that. A lot of our families have their racial nuances for sure. But let’s not get comfortable with the notion that just because one has some non-Native admixture that that constitutes their identity or culture. Once you study our collective Indigenous history it becomes evident that our essence, timeline, and trajectory is an Indigenous one.
The whitewashing of Mesoamerican peoples into Hispanic, Latino, and Mestizo identities has been an ongoing process for about 500 years. In Mexico til this day, hardships and shame continue to be levied upon anything and anyone noticeably Indigenous. After hundreds of years of being domesticated by rewarding of whiteness (Latinidad) and punishing Indigeneity, it is no wonder our people want to disassociate from being “Indio” and fall into the desire to identify as anything but Indigenous.
For those of us Chicanx growing up in the United States experience we can add an additional layer of colonization. We have been shamed and marginalized for being Mexican and speaking Spanish in the United States, and that is on top of the hundreds of years of being shamed for being Indians in Mexico or Central America. Due to relentless social hardships and assaults on our Indigeneity, not only have many of our families invested in Latinidad at the expense of our Mexicanidad or Indigeneity, but our peoples are now also aspiring to fit into capitalist, Anglo American culture. That’s double the barrier we have to overcome to reclaim our authentic Indigenous selves and the immortal inheritances our Ancestors left us.
I often hear people say things like “well what’s the best name for us?” Of course when they say “us” what they really mean is the people currently under the umbrella of Hispanic and Latino labels. Understandably shaking these misnomers is hard thing to unlearn but we must acknowledge that “we” Spanish speakers of “Latin American” countries in this hemisphere are not all the same people just because we have Latin surname or employ the language—and that is ok.
Insisting that we are all the same is akin to saying that all Americans are the same because we all speak English. But we know that is silly because there are many people who have distinct and different histories. Just like some in the United States might have had parallel struggles, Indigenous people’s history is not Black people’s history, and Japanese history is not Chinese history etc.
It is in this same way that Spanish or other Latin (Iberian) people’s history in Mexico is not the same as Indigenous people’s history or Black African history in this hemisphere. It is in that same way the Mexican and Central America history is significantly different than Cuba’s, Argentina’s or other similar “Latin American” countries with a predominantly White (Latin) populations.
As Indigenous people in the movement for healing, justice, and liberation, it is our way to build good relations with all people , cultures, and communities. There are many ways that people connect. It could be by way of liking the same type of music, hobbies, sports, spiritual inclinations, or speaking the same language as another. There are many ways people can build solidarity and social relationships. However, it does not, and should not be at the expense of our personal histories. Especially when those histories are inextricably tied to the healing, liberation, and other imperative social issues of our peoples.
We must also ask ourselves why the scrutiny over Mexicans and other Spanish speaking Natives for wanting to reclaiming our Indigenous identity? There seems to be no issue when we want to claim some distant real or made up European nationality, or be Latin or Mestizo. But all hell breaks loose when we choose to actually identify with what we truly are.
We can speculate why they want to erase us from existence. We are deeply tied to the land. They have and want to keep the land and wealth they stole. We are their mirrors. They don’t want to be reminded of who they really are and the crimes they have and continue to commit. If “we are all the same people” then there are no crimes to be accountable for, nor anyone to be accountable to.
Correct your identity. That is of course if one is actually of Indigenous Mesoamerican heritage. If you’re lineage’s historic continuity is European, even though your family has been here for centuries or whatever then your fine to claim Latino. Because that is what you really are. But the majority of people of Mexicans and Central American nationalities are clearly and predominantly of Indigenous heritage. With this we must be honest with ourselves that there is a substantial contingent of Mexicans or other Spanish speaking nationalities in this hemisphere whose families and lineage have not been oriented in the Indigenous heritages of this “American” continent.
Funk faking claims happen a lot these days unfortunately. People of European heritage with Latin surnames appropriating Indigeneity because their family has been “Mexican” or “Colombian” citizens for however long. Again, this appropriation is made available by the intentional convoluting and mislabeling of our Brown peoples as Latinx or Hispanic just because we carry similar Latin surnames or such.
While gatekeeping is a slippery slope and solidarity should be built along common struggles, we must be honest in acknowledging when people from our Spanish speaking communities do not have Indigenous cultural continuity. It doesn’t mean that we can’t be in community with them on other intersections, but for collective unity to succeed all people must be honest about their socio-historic trajectories and the responsibilities that come with it.
There are many ways to divest from the harmful, Indigenous erasing terms like Hispanic and Latino. One less harmful way is to identify with your family’s country of origin such as Mexican, El Salvadorian, Nicaraguan, etc. It’s been shown that most so-called Latinos prefer this.
Assuming you are on this website because you’re inspired to reconnect with your Indigeneity, you can also try to estimate the original Indigenous nationalities of your people. I am blessed to know a respectable amount of my family history so I have been able to gravitate toward my Purepecha and Guachichil Indigenous nationalities.
For those of us that don’t have that privilege of knowing your Indigenous nation connection, a good option is to identify as Mexica. We use Mexica synonymously with, and to reflect, the general Indigenous peoples of what is dubbed Mesoamerica. Using Mexica as an identity is not meant to suggest that we give up our individual Indigenous identities for nationalistic reasons. That is a popular misconception being pushed by wokosos on social media these days. On this website we use the term Mexica as a placeholder for those of our people rediscovering their Indigenous selves.
As of lately we’ve also been using the term Mesox. Mesox is a decolonized version of the word Mesoamerican which eliminates the use of American as the suffix.
So remember that if you are Indigenous from any Spanish speaking country in this hemisphere, divesting from whiteness/Latinidad is a revolutionary act. Smash the labels that seek to keep us and our Indigenous legacies bound and invisible. Smash them labels that seek to disconnect us from nthe fact that we children of Tlalnantzin, our Mother Earth, the land they wish to keep us disconnected from.
Revoking the harmful Latino and Hispanic labels will save us much grief and weed out the fakers who misrepresent us. It will help lift layers of deception so that we may better see the sinister nature of this white supremacy social system. No more white Cubans claiming they speak for “us Hispanics”. No more Spanish Europeans perpetrating themselves as Mexican heroes people in movies. No more Catholic Church trying pass off our oppressors as “one of us” just because we have similar Latin surnames.
They say you can’t love anyone you don’t know. The hundreds of years of shaming and having our histories kept from us has resulted in destructive symptoms of self hate in our peoples. Being honest with who you are, being honest with who we are.. Being our authentic and true selves is the best justice and gift we can give ourselves, our future generations, and this world.
Let’s move forward as the beautiful Indigenous people we are.
Not Hispanic! Not Latino! Not Mestizo! Not Immigrant ! Not Illegal!
Soy Chicano!, Ni Mexica!, Ni Macehual!, Ji Purhepecha!